The first time Wavell Starr attended a live wrestling event with his mooshum, kokum, and father, he was fascinated. Not just by what was happening in the ring but what was unfolding behind the scenes.
Many of the wrestlers from that Stampede wrestling event in Regina and the ones Starr watched on TV, went on to work in the WWE, the biggest promotion in the world of professional wrestling.
Years later, Starr, who admits to wrestling with his stuffed animals while growing up, also ended up in the WWE’s squared circle, taking on some of the biggest names in the game.
It was a long road from wrestling in his basement, to University football, to professional wrestling for Starr, also known in the ring as the First Nation Sensation.
Starr’s favourite wrestlers growing up included the Dynamite Kid, the British Bulldog and all of the Hart brothers including Bret and Owen. He would later train with Bruce Hart in the famed “dungeon” in the Hart house in Calgary.
Even though he was training with a wrestling legend, when it came to his first match, Starr was worried about embarrassing himself and others.
“If I was not going to be any good I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to misrepresent my family or band members from Star Blanket or any other Indigenous people. So, I came up with a name. I said call me Donnie Mack,” Starr tells Face to Face Host Dennis Ward.
“Fortunately for me after those first couple matches, I did feel that I was on the right path and did start using my real identity after those first two initial matches.”
Every wrestler has a gimmick and Starr says most people are born with theirs.
“If you’re missing a finger, you’re forever going to be the nine-finger wrestler,” he says.
The Native American wrestler gimmick goes back decades, although some who used it weren’t actually Indigenous, in any way.
“I didn’t want to come across as being too overly romantic. I didn’t want too many feathers, too many dancing, you know cowboys and Indians thing,” says Starr. “I wanted to somehow portray the Indigenous image and some of the positive aspects about it. Like for instance, the trunks that I wore, those were made by my mother and she had a long history of being a seamstress.
“She made powwow outfits so she knows what she’s doing.”
Starr had many WWE matches over the years but never put pen to paper for a full time contract. He says some have insinuated the re-signing of Tatanka at that time, a known entity, had something to do with it. Still, Starr is proud of his time in the promotion.
He also has found memories of his time wrestling in northern First Nations, especially ones where the kids still speak their language.
After more than two decades in the ring and numerous championship belts around his waist, Starr has transitioned from inside to the ring to a behind the scenes role, promoting shows.
“That’s a natural transition. In the business, we have something called the bump card which basically means you have a card that has a certain number of times on it that you can land on your back and once you run out, you can’t reload the card, that’s it you’re done. And I am definitely running close to the end of that bump card. So, I do like to stay involved and right now I’m more into the promoting of shows and bringing events into Indigenous communities and other events like that,” says Starr.
The independent wrestling circuit has pretty been much grounded to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic but Starr is confident its poised for a big return once live shows can safely resume.